We are a nation of workaholics. On average, UK employees spend 35 hours working every single week. During this time, we are surrounded by and required to collaborate with colleagues from all different backgrounds. The environment in which we work has a significant impact on our mental and physical well being. The relationships that we form, the competition that we find and collective goals are all factors that can significantly boost productivity. However, when it comes to conflict in the workplace, unsolved issues can lead to communal stress, increased absences, and dips in efficiency. Much conflict is inevitable when you bring together individuals with different personalities, backgrounds, and work ethics. However, in all situations, it needs to be managed and resolved to minimise more detrimental impacts in the future.
Solutions sit across a broad spectrum from inter-colleague conversations through to employment tribunal litigation. However, several effective and early approaches to negative conflict exist through mediation and ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution).
Is all workplace conflict negative?
Building a positive corporate culture is generally thought to correlate to high team morale. Leaders strive to minimise the number of conflicting situations to this measure. However, healthy competition can also be labelled as conflict and, in many environments, leads to a wider spectrum of ideas and solutions. In environments where employees feel that their opinion can be heard without shut-down judgement, proposals become more adaptive and unique. There is a need to balance the amount of ‘positive’ conflict with an appropriate solution for dealing with negative disputes when they emerge.
Once an issue of conflict has been raised, it falls to the Manager of the team to address the situation swiftly. The variation of issues can be complex, spreading from a simple disagreement through to harassment and discrimination. With all, the same degree of importance should be given to managing and finding a solution, as to ensure both parties feel heard. Developing a solid workplace culture that works to prevent conflict and has a structure in place to address it when it arises ensures that grievances are met with an appropriate level of respect.
Common indicators of workplace conflict
While managerial training is essential when it comes to minimising disagreements between employees, the signs of conflict are often more subtle. A general feeling of unhappiness can translate itself into a drop in motivation, derogatory talk, lessened productivity, and increased absence rates. Some of these can be tracked and addressed swiftly. Others are more subtle and require careful monitoring and listening to identify when an issue is moving from the realm of disagreement to true conflict. The quicker a problem is recognised, the easier it is to solve. Ignored grievances generally escalate and become more challenging to overcome in the long run.
ADR as a tool to manage conflict
Regarded as one of the earliest methods for dealing with workplace conflict, mediation provides an open space where all parties try to reach an agreed solution. It is a voluntary, informal and confidential process whereby a mediator (the neutral party) helps the individuals to settle disputes and discuss the problems raised. The goal is to de-escalate the problem before it manifests into something more significant.
All parties are invited to have an open dialogue with each person’s differing perspective given space to be heard. If issues exist on an interpersonal level, mediation is generally viewed as an effective solution. Reaching an agreed outcome and committing to taking certain changes back into the working environment allows employees to take control of the situation and get their opinions across in a safe space.
Outcomes expected from workplace mediation resolutions
The structure of mediation allows both parties to get across their grievances. The goal of the Mediator in these instances is to work together with these individuals to come to a mutually agreed solution to the conflict. In turn, this boosts interpersonal skills and gives ownership, requiring employees themselves to decipher the best course of action.
This process is largely dependent on the contributions from all parties and relies on a degree of readiness to accept. Solutions could be to adjust workload, to give certain priorities to specific individuals, or to change the way that a project is run. In all situations, mediation provides a cost-effective and confidential solution to any professional setting.
Businesses that implement structures to minimise workplace conflict swiftly are likely to build more productive, proactive, and efficient company cultures. Individuals feel that their complaints are heard and actions are taken to solve them. In turn, having procedures such as mediation provides reassurance that the tools are there, should such complications arise. Workplace conflict, to some degree, is inevitable. It, therefore, falls on the business to ensure open communication and consultations are in place to resolve them.